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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

Unique horses lead SMU’s Equestrian Team in undefeated season

Photo credit: Giovanna Scroggins

Birds fly in and out of big barn garage doors, squawking and screeching as they glide through the stables. Bright, bold, wide eyes peek out of stalls to stare as a passersby walks down the main aisle.

College equestrian programs around the country are providing stable homes for horses after they finish their careers in the big leagues. Horses are donated to teams and typically have impressive backgrounds.

Competing in the international derby, jumping over fences four feet and higher, a SMU Equestrian Team horse named Oliver had a pretty big career before he came to SMU. But, Oliver lost his left eye a couple years ago due to endotheliitis, a disorder that inflames the corneal endothelium.

“He was not always blind,” said Hailey Johns, a junior equestrian rider. “So he had to learn how to adapt and adjust. He’s super clever, super competent. So he did that fine. But when he first got to college, having a bunch of different girls was very difficult for him. So it was kind of my special project.”

Johns took over this special project her freshman year when Oliver came to SMU. Oliver is a self-assured horse with a big personality, but change was a struggle for Oliver after his career and after losing his eye, she said.

“Oliver’s biggest challenge in coming to SMU was the transition from having the same owner and rider for the vast majority of his life to being cared for and ridden by a large and diverse group of girls,” Johns said. “I was the first to handle, ride and spend time with him, so our connection came very naturally.”

Oliver was imported from Europe at four years old and then started showing in the United States when he was five. Now, he is 13 and living at the Dallas Equestrian Center where about 35 of the equestrian team’s horses live.

Typically, show horses in the industry are cleaned, groomed and don’t have long whiskers. However, Oliver gets to keep his whiskers long so he can use those senses to help with his spatial awareness around the barn.

“He is extremely intelligent and spatially aware,” Johns said. “You honestly wouldn’t notice he was blind on his left side if you didn’t know it. He doesn’t ride blind.”

Johns was the only SMU rider to touch Oliver for the first two weeks he was at the Dallas Equestrian Center, but ever since then, Oliver is usually the highest score of the meet.

“He’s our superstar jumper,” Johns said, referring to Oliver.

However, uniquely talented horses aren’t strangers to the team.

Moe, or Moe-Money, is one of the original horses the team has had. Mo has been around, but is also most reliable.

“In 2018 he was horse of the year for reining, he normally scores pretty high for us so he’s just all around a good boy,” said Taylor Zimmerman, a senior equestrian SMU rider.

Assistant coach Brad Kearns is glad that horses like Mo and Oliver have a home where they can be purposeful.

“They like to be needed, they like to have a job and have a purpose, so this is a way they can continue to have a career in a less stressful environment where they are not expected to be 110% every performance,” Kearns said.

Despite the horses not being expected to perform at 110%, the equestrian team remains nearly undefeated in their spring slate. The equestrian team opened their spring season at the number one spot in National Collegiate Equestrian Association rankings.

The next time you can see Oliver and Mo in action will be March 11 at the Dallas Equestrian Center where the Mustangs will take on Texas A&M at home.

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